A Man For All Seasons: Act 1, Scene Five

A spotlight on the floor is the only thing visible as a bright red robe and cardinal’s hat are thrown into the light. The Common Man enters and puts the robe and hat in his basket. Then he puts on his glasses and reads from a history book about the death of Cardinal Wolsey. He died of a broken heart or pneumonia, but the real cause was the displeasure of the King over his handling of the divorce. He was arrested and died on the way to the Tower in 1530. Afterwards, Sir Thomas More became the Lord Chancellor of England. More had the reputation of being a saint, which one would gather from his writings. In life that is harder to verify, the Common Man says, but since he seemed indifferent to reality, perhaps he was.

Act One, Scene Five: CommentaryThe swift shift of scenes to highlight only certain moments in More’s story makes history feel more arbitrary, less logical and sequential. Wolsey is there, threatening, one moment, and the next, he is gone, a footnote in a history book, with only his robe and hat remaining. The Common Man’s commentary provides an ironic link between scenes. History is all about the important people like Wolsey and More, but as Alice More points out, great people can get colds as well as commoners. Wolsey’s pneumonia, his death, his fall, demonstrate the vulnerability of every person. The Common Man points out not the high drama, but the human condition. The Common Man is not very impressed by Sir Thomas More’s saintliness.